Or Maybe It’s Time For A New Normal

“What are your plans this weekend?” The cashier politely asked me at the Trader Joe’s checkout line. I stared back at him for a second without responding, my eyes squinting and mind racing to come up with an answer. It had been so long since I had small talk with a stranger that I didn’t have an off-the-cuff response prepared.

“Not much—going for a hike with my dog up by the botanical garden,” I mustered. But then I thought, Oh no, have I shared too much? Is that too personal? Maybe don’t give away location details next time, Henah.

It felt like I had forgotten the most basic of interaction skills after the last 15 months, even though I’d always been a social butterfly. That moment’s discomfort gnawed at me for days. In a world that’s seemingly heading towards a “new normal”—would I be able to, too?

Nothing I’ve done today or experienced in the last year is normal.

But then again, what is “normal”? Nothing I’ve done today or experienced in the last year is normal, and I don’t know a single person whose life hasn’t been uprooted by COVID in some way. The pandemic is now part of who I am, filled with pangs of fear for my loved ones, uncertainty about the future, and anxiety about returning to society.

I don’t think I’m alone. Therapists and doctors alike talk about the collective trauma of social isolation, in contrast with our needs as social creatures. I’ve managed touch deprivation and loneliness by channeling more affection towards my pets and husband. I’ve made extra efforts to connect with friends, from the early quarantine days of playing Quiplash to long phone calls. I’ve tried to fill that social gap by people-watching at the park. Despite my best efforts though, it’s challenging and I remind myself that we’re in a double pandemic from COVID-19 and isolation.

On top of that, when everything has been out of our control—alongside massive trauma—the narrative of “normal” sounds alluring. Reverting back to pre-pandemic days is familiar and comforting; it’s quite literally all we’ve ever known. It’s safe, secure, reliable. Surely, the proverbial cocoon of routine, safety, and complacency seems better than what we’ve had over the last year. 

But even before COVID, was “normal” really working? I’m not so convinced.

The pandemic highlighted major cracks in our individualist society. In early weeks as we tried to fend for ourselves, it became apparent that our shared survival would require more than one person’s leadership or one city’s participation. What we did need to survive was all of us, working together.

What we did need to survive was all of us, working together.

Days once filled with shallow small talk have now shifted focus to finding fulfillment in our most important relationships. In previous years, side hustles and demanding jobs were glamorized—but now we’ve been forced to balance rest alongside it. 

Which is why we can’t go back to normal—why the “new” normal is essential. Instead of resetting the clock and going back to our early 2020 lives, we can envision a different post-COVID future.

This is our chance to rewrite what “normal” should be, even if it’s new and scary. It can be a safe space, honoring all of the feelings—fear, anxiety, and mourning included—we’ve recently experienced. It’s a place of healing, remembering that there isn’t a single person alive right now who’s been unaffected. So whether we want to stay here for just a little bit longer or are eager to change, all of this can be okay, too—no judgement.

The new normal trades in busyness and chaos for calm and patience, soaking in long afternoons in the sun and practicing gratitude for fresh (albeit masked) air. Pausing for an extra-long hug with a parent. Savoring every bite of food at a restaurant or mile driven on a road trip, which would have been inconceivable just months ago. Remembering there is hope ahead.

It can be a safe space, honoring all of the feelings—fear, anxiety, and mourning included—we’ve recently experienced.

We can accept that the new normal is a daily, or even hourly, experience. One which embraces the slowness of our days, where we ease into routines instead of jumping right back in. Where we look at what’s worth keeping or creating anew, like investing in mutual aid or shifting to remote work for good. Where even the most social of butterflies can re-emerge from a chrysalis, fundamentally different but courageously shedding the old and looking to new horizons.

We’ve been through a collective trauma and individual recovery will be deeply personal. Let’s drop the expectation to return to “normal” and instead care for one another and move comfortably at our own pace. That’s the only real way we’ll heal, after all.

When I think about the cashier’s response to my weekend plans—a gentle laugh—I’m thankful for his graciousness. I was probably one of many he was offering connection to that day, and I’m grateful he extended it, even if I wasn’t prepared. He’s just one example of how I’ll ease back in.

So, will I go back to “normal”? Maybe not, but I’m not sure that’s what I wanted anyway. But will I move forward into the new and unknown, knowing we’ll be in it together? Absolutely.


Henah Velez (she/her) is an Editor at The Good Trade. She holds a Master’s in Social Entrepreneurship and is a proud Rutgers grad. Originally from NJ, Henah’s now in Santa Barbara, CA, where she loves shopping small, hanging with her pets, or traveling. Say hi on Instagram!